Pro bono work by the nation’s major law firms is an essential part of closing the justice gap and guaranteeing access to legal services for the nation’s indigent and under-represented. As you begin your legal career, make pro bono a part of your professional life by choosing a firm that has a strong and vibrant pro bono culture. Be sure that pro bono is a priority for your firm by letting them know the importance you place on pro bono service when deciding where to begin your legal career. Law firms want to recruit the best legal talent and law students are one of the key forces driving the development of pro bono programs.
Asking questions about pro bono lets law firms know that pro bono is important to prospective associates. The following questions are designed to help you assess the strength of a law firm’s commitment to pro bono and to help you distinguish between firms that claim to support pro bono and those that actually offer robust programs.
1. How is the firm's pro bono program structured?
- Is there a full-time pro bono coordinator?
- Is the pro bono coordinator an attorney?
- Is the pro bono coordinator a partner and/or are partners involved in the supervision of pro bono cases?
- How are pro bono cases brought into the firm?
- Does the firm routinely accept pro bono cases from specific nonprofits?
- Who screens/assigns pro bono matters?
- What types of pro bono cases does the firm accept? (impact, class actions or individual representations?)
- Are individual attorneys allowed to bring in their own pro bono cases?
- Do all of the firm’s offices actively participate in the pro bono program?
- Does the firm provide ongoing training and supervision for pro bono matters?
- Does the firm provide administrative and clerical support for pro bono cases?
2. How does the firm encourage pro bono work?
- Are attorneys required or encouraged to perform a minimum number of pro bono hours annually?
- Do pro bono hours count toward the firm’s billable hour requirement?
- Is there a cap on the number of pro bono hours that can be counted as billable?
- Are pro bono hours considered in bonus/promotion performance reviews?
- Are summer associates required/encouraged to participate in pro bono?
- Are pro bono cases treated the same as billable cases when work is distributed?
- How many of the firm’s attorneys who made partner did substantial pro bono work?
- What percentage of attorneys in the firm did pro bono ?
- What is the average number of pro bono hours per lawyer?
3. Is the firm's pro bono program highlighted on its website or in its annual report?
- Is the information provided specific and substantive or more of a general marketing piece?
- Ask for a copy of the firm's written pro bono policy.
4. Does the firm sponsor split public service summer internships and postgraduate fellowships?
- Firms Sponsoring Split Public Interest Summer Programs (Yale Law School)
5. Is the firm a signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®?
PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® (The challenge requires the firm to commit 3-5 percent of their total billable hours to pro bono.)
Assessing a Law Firm’s Commitment to Pro Bono:
- American Lawyer (annually evaluates law firm pro bono programs)
- The Vault Guide to Law Firm Pro Bono Programs (information on the pro bono programs of the 100 largest firms)
- Chambers Associate (pro bono is part of each firm’s profile)
- NALP Directory (information about firms’ pro bono policies)
- Assessing a Law Firm’s Commitment to Pro Bono (prepared by Columbia Law School)
- Pro Bono Guide: An Introduction to Pro Bono Opportunities in the Law Firm Setting (prepared by Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising Harvard Law School)